What happens when you rediscover your fear of heights while standing on a six-inch-wide beam jutting 180 feet over the open ocean?
You walk the six or so paces to the end and smile, wind-whipped and terrified, for the camera. And then, of course, you boast about walking "The Plank" on Norwegian Cruise Line's latest ship to anyone who will listen.
To be sure, the Miami-based cruise operator designed Norwegian Breakaway with thrills — and bragging rights — in mind.
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Breakaway was created to honor its home port of New York City, just as sister ship Getaway will pay homage to Miami when it starts sailing there after launching in January.
Although the pace of new ships entering the marketplace has slowed across the industry, cruise lines are stocking their vessels full of whiz-bang, would-you-look-at-that features. Disney Dream introduced the first "water coaster" at sea in 2011, and in June Princess Cruises unveiled its glass-bottom SeaWalk, which extends 28 feet out from the side of the ship high above the water, on Royal Princess.
Royal Caribbean International's Quantum of the Seas, debuting in November of 2014, will include a simulated skydiving experience and a Ferris wheel-like capsule that carries passengers hundreds of feet in the air.
Norwegian Breakaway earns its gee-whiz bonus points with The Plank and waterslides that start with a freefall — but also with its sheer abundance of onboard options. In May, a reporter sailed with about 3,500 passengers during an inaugural two-night cruise for media, travel agents and VIPs.
With room for 4,028 passengers at double occupancy, the New York-based ship is smaller than the 4,100-passenger Norwegian Epic, which launched in 2010. But it has more dining options, more slides, nine miniature golf holes, a ropes course, fireworks, and three shows with Broadway cred.
It also features a more sleek, traditional design than Epic, which got no love for its boxy look and awkward split bathrooms.
While the bathrooms are more standard, they are also raised, so passengers need to pay close attention to the "watch your step" sign or risk tripping into the main cabin area. The mini suite is spacious, with ample closet space, a very comfortable bed, foldout couch and long trough-like sink in the bathroom. The shower is roomy, though it took a few tries to figure out the multi-jet system. All rooms have an energy-efficient, key card-based system for lighting.
The ship's small balconies are getting the kind of negative attention that Epic earned from the split bathrooms. Even attached to a mini suite, the balcony is miniscule, fitting only two chairs and a tiny table.
Kevin Sheehan, the cruise line's president and CEO, said the company considered how much time passengers were likely to spend on balconies instead of other parts of the ship and decided it was more important to put more space in the cabins.
The ship offers a wide variety of cabins, from 59 studios for solo cruisers to the 42 suites that are part of the upscale, private Haven complex at the top of the ship. The Haven includes its own restaurant and bar as well as a pool courtyard with a retractable roof for not-so-sunny days.
There's no mistaking Breakaway's connection to New York City: The Peter Max-designed hull bears pop art versions of the city's skyline and Statue of Liberty. Inside, the two-story atrium screen shows scenes from Manhattan, and the roaming Sabrett hot dog stands are meant to evoke the city's street food.
The Norwegian Getaway will sail year-round from Miami after it is delivered in January. While many of the new features on Breakaway will be included on the sister ship, it will have its own location-specific touches.
Breakaway has outdoor seating at four restaurants and the blues club in an area called The Waterfront. That concept makes more sense for Getaway than a ship that will sail from Manhattan in winter months.
Most of the restaurants, shops, bars and entertainment can be found in an area on decks 6-8 called 678 Ocean Place, or on decks 15 and 16.
Breakaway boasts an impressive number of restaurants, including Ocean Blue by Geoffrey Zakarian and a Raw Bar from the celebrity chef.
Of the 28 dining options, 11 are complimentary; the others, including French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese and Brazilian fare, are priced a la carte or range from $15 to $49.
Also new on Breakaway are Dolce Gelato, which opens up onto the Waterfront, and the neighboring Carlo's Bake Shop from "Cake Boss" star Buddy Valastro. The closet-sized bakery offers cupcakes, made-to-order cakes, cannoli and other goodies. Both dessert spaces charge an extra fee, and will return on the Getaway.